St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Jeff Smith wins official 16th Ward endorsement

The 16th Ward Democratic Club voted by secret ballot Thursday night (4/27) to endorse Jeff Smith for the 4th district senate seat. The seat is currently held by term-limted Democrat Patrick Dougherty.

While this vote validates the previously announced personal endorsements of the committeeman and committeewoman, the ward's official endorsement is by vote of the membership, which does not always follow the leadership. (In 2003, the club voted to endorse Steve Malle for alderman, over former State Rep and Director of Elections Jim O'Toole and eventual winner Donna Baringer.) Eligibility to vote was granted to members whose 2006 dues was paid and who had attended two of the past three meetings. Candidates for all offices were allowed to speak and then requested to leave (except for congressional candidate Jim Frisella, unopposed State Rep. Fred Kratky and unopposed Circuit Clerk Mariano Favazza, who are voting members of the club). Smith, former State Rep. Derio Gambaro, State Rep Amber Boykins and former Alderman Kenny Jones all attended and spoke on behalf of their candidacies for the senate seat. A fifth candidate, State Rep Yaphett El-Amin, did not attend. An animated discussion followed, with Favazza, Frisella and several other club members expressing their support for Gambaro for the senate nomination. Committeeman Kratky, Committeewoman Cathy Ruggeri Rea and Michelle Kratky were among those voicing support for Smith. The club announced only the winners and not the number of votes, but the Smith-Gambaro vote is believed to have been close.

While the organization's endorsement is chosen very democratically, the endorsement historically has had little influence on the ward's voters. In 2004, the club endorsed Claire McCaskill's successful challenge of Gov Bob Holden, former State Rep Joan Barry for Congress and State Rep Mark Abel for State Treasurer, but didn't carry any of them in the ward. Favazza handily carried the ward in the congressional contest, beating the endorsed Barry by about 2-1. Smith finished third in the ward, but ahead of district winner Carnahan, who finished fourth in the ward. The 16th Ward is home to more Republicans than any other city ward (even though the city's only GOP alderman represents the neighboring 12th), and the ward's Democratic voters are among the most conservative in the city. In the primary, the Oracle expects that Gambaro will also beat the endorsement and narrowly outpoll Smith in the ward, but that Smith will win the nomination with a strong showing in other parts of the district.

The club also voted to endorse incumbent Congressman Russ Carnahan over Frisella, but that vote was also far from unanimous. Both candidates spoke. Carnahan was given special treatment to accommodate his schedule.

While Darrell Wattenbarger of Columbia spoke to the meeting, the ward endorsed the heavily favored Susan Montee (who did not attend) for state auditor (but not unanimously).

Uncontroversial endorsements were also won by U S Senate candidate Claire McCaskill, License Collector Greg Daly for Collector of Revenue and Alderman Mike McMillan for License Collector, as well as all Democrats running unopposed for the party's nomination. Daly, McMillan, Kratky, and State Rep. Mike Vogt attended and spoke. Favazza, unopposed for re-election, opted not to speak on his own behalf.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Campaign law breaches, racial politics mar school contest

Challengers Peter Downs and Donna Jones surprised most political observers with their clean sweep of Tuesday’s school board elections in the City of St. Louis, unseating incumbents backed by Mayor Francis Slay and the business establishment. The Oracle correctly predicted Downs’ top finish (see April 3 post below), but even I didn’t foresee Jones joining him in the winners circle.

The campaign was encouraging, regardless of which side you supported, because it was a classic contest between a well-financed media campaign and a volunteer-rich grassroots campaign that was won by the grassroots campaign. In our hearts, that’s the generic result most of us prefer, independent of the candidates and issues.

But the campaign also had its discouraging elements. Perhaps worst were the violations by both sides of fundamental campaign laws. Both sides conducted campaigns primarily with (wink-wink) “independent expenditures” that everyone knows were fully coordinated with the candidates. At least this year was an improvement over prior years, with fewer choreographed photo sessions involving both candidates posing together with model kids (really, paid models) financed with “independent expenditures.” (Compare last year’s farce.) This year was less blatant, but still improper.

Incumbents Darnetta Clinkscale and James Buford published joint newspaper ads and expensive joint lawn signs which recited they were paid for by their individual candidate committees. The Missouri Ethics Commission regards such expenditures as being partially in-kind contributions to each other. The size of these expenditures clearly exceeded the $1,275 ceiling that each could legally contribute to the other.

The campaign for Downs and Jones had its own campaign disclosure problems. The legal disclaimer on its sample ballots merely stated, “Labor donated by the St. Louis Teachers and BRP Union Local 420 COPE Committee.” This confuses two separate concepts. The legal disclaimer required by law requires the use of the words “Paid for by” and that the treasurer of the committee be identified. Neither those words nor the treasurer’s name appeared anywhere on the flyers. Even if a volunteer ran them off a copy machine, somebody paid for the paper and toner. “Labor donated” is the wording commonly used to explain not using a union printer (which ought to be embarrassing for a UNION). Now maybe that sounds picky, but Local 420 can’t really pretend to be political neophytes who are too inexperienced to know better. And not being able to use the right words is pretty sad for TEACHERS!

Both sides also made subtle appeals to Democratic Party loyalty in this nonpartisan contest by printing their election day flyers on the standard green paper stock used for Democrat sample ballots. The Democratic Party didn’t object, so apparently any candidate can use that paper for her/his flyers. (Cautionary note: Candidate photos look really creepy on that green background!)

Both sides can also be faulted for playing racial politics, with different messages for the predominantly black north side and the predominantly white south side. Educate St. Louis distributed two mailings specifically attacking Peter Downs, whose apparent selective distribution was widely questioned on major blogs. It was also interesting that the only white candidate in the seven-candidate field was the one singled out for the attacks.

Local 420 played the race card by publishing two separate sample ballots: one for the north side itemizing endorsements of primarily black politicians and organizations, and one for the south side listing endorsements of primarily white politicians and organizations. They spent extra money for separate printings, apparently to conceal the endorsements of Organization for Black Struggle, the Black Women’s Political Action Coalition and numerous African American politicians from south side voters. The union’s sample ballot also took a stand against the anti-recall proposition on the north side ballots, but didn’t mention it on those sent to the south side.

These tactics were especially regrettable in a school board contest. The board members and union teachers set very poor examples for their students. Why should students play by the rules, they might ask, if their own teachers and the school district’s governing board don’t?

The bad blood didn’t stop when the polls closed. Clinkscale’s heretofore classy facade broke down the day after the election with this hyperbolic sour grapes comment to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "The teachers union won and the children lost."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Third time may be Downs' charm

On the eve of the hotly contested school board election in the City of St. Louis, the Oracle's crystal ball sees a tight race resulting in a split decision: third-time challenger Peter Downs will be the top vote getter, but recently appointed incumbent James Buford will outpoll both his running mate, board president Darnetta Clinkscale, and leading challenger Donna Jones, with Joe Clark coming in fifth.

Supporters of the current board majority apparently fear that this election is Downs' time. Educate St. Louis, the so-called "independent expenditure" PAC supporting the Clinkscales and Buford candidacies, has sent out two blistering attack pieces focusing on Downs, but not Jones or Clark. With the generous financial backing of Big Business and the Mayor Francis Slay's own campaign fund, this group can afford sophisticated polling. Their polls must be showing Downs in front.

The current board majority, which has the support of Slay, would retain control by a 4-3 margin if the predicted result takes place.

While the Oracle plans to vote for Downs and Jones, the predicted result wouldn't be all bad. As I posted earlier on the Political Fix blog, such a result would give the deciding vote, and therefore effective control of the board, to a sometimes maverick Flint Fowler. The minority would include two well-informed dissenters, Downs (publisher of St. Louis Schools Watch) and veteran board member Bill Purdy. Thus, while leaving policy in the hands of the current majority, the minority will have both the votes and the information necessary to keep the majority in check. It could be "checks and balances" at their best.